Hot Air Balloon Competition is a sport that requires skill utilizing the pilot’s knowledge of their aircraft, how to maneuver it through layers of wind, and being able to navigate using only wind direction. Understanding competition is a matter of learning the rules and language of different terms for tasks given. Competition is not a “race” but precision flying to a target.
There are usually 6-7 tasks called each morning for National’s competition. This means that the pilot must navigate their balloon to each target (some of them are virtually located in the sky) and either fly through the target or if the target is located on the ground (a big X or triangle) they throw a weighted bag filled with 2 oz. of sand on the target. The closest to the center of the X or triangle wins that target. Then they fly onto the next target hoping the winds have not changed and repeat the process.
They may win one target and miss three others or score poorly on several targets. The champion is the pilot with the most points at the end of the week. Hard targets will be located on Mitchell Airfield on Friday and Saturday of the competition. Old West Balloon Fest pilots participate in a mass ascension and then the targets are put out for the national’s pilots to swoop in and score. A must-see for those who want an up-close and personal view of the final two days of competition.